“The Hidden Message of Christmas” – (hiding in plain sight)
Text: Luke 2: 8-11
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
There is a Japanese scientist named Dr. Emoto, who wrote a book called “The Hidden Messages in Water” that I think is a fascinating study of how the properties of water can be impacted by things you would not normally consider. I believe I have shared some of this information with you in prior sermons, so I won’t elaborate too much, but the hidden message is simply the idea that there may be more connections and unity in our universe than we originally thought. For example, Dr. Emoto has studied the way water crystalizes when it freezes, and the formation of those crystals seems to be impacted by negative or positive information. It’s almost like the water has an awareness of the surrounding environment; this is not something we expect, so Dr. Emoto considers the message to be hidden.
I also believe there is a hidden message in Christmas, but it is not what we expect, so we tend to pass right over it without giving it the consideration, that at least I think, it deserves. When we begin to talk about the message of Christmas, the focus normally is centered on Jesus, and this seems appropriate because it is the birth of Jesus that we celebrate at this time of year. When we focus on Jesus we can see a myriad of messages that are all appropriate for the Christmas season. We can talk about love, which of course is a big one. We can mention peace and hope and joy as all being parts of the Christmas message.
Even our tradition of the Advent candles echo these four points; as each of the four candles is representative of those four Christmas messages of hope, joy, peace and love. We could expand our search for a hidden message in Christmas to include the life example of Jesus as well. As we consider the life of Jesus we see many examples of how we choose to treat each other, how we accept those who are different from us and what true compassion looks like. We have parables and stories that Jesus taught from that could also be considered a part of the Christmas message.
I bring all of these things up because they are logical places where you would normally look for a true Christmas message. Now please understand that I don’t think there is a single true Christmas message; there are lots of them and I don’t believe there is one that is more important than the others. All the messages of Christmas are important for us to consider and we should pay attention to all of them.
But there is one message that I believe is prominent in the Christmas story and actually prominent in many places throughout the Bible, which gets overlooked with a fair amount of regularity. We don’t see this message on Christmas cards or spelled out in lights on people’s front lawns. We don’t hear Christmas carols about this message. I would venture to guess that no one here today has a Christmas ornament on their tree at home with this message painted on the ornament or has a glitter covered cardboard cutout of the message hanging on their tree or around the house. Because of the way this particular Christmas message has been overlooked, I consider it hidden – even though it lives in plain sight all year long. Furthermore, we are reminded of this message many times throughout the year and not just at Christmas, but still, in spite of all the reminders, it is virtually ignored.
I think most of us are familiar, at least to some degree, about some of the concepts of journalism. In other words, if I refer to something as a lead story, most of you would know what I mean. In the newspaper business, this is called a headline. If something important happens, it is in the headlines. If you are publishing a magazine, it is called the cover story. There is usually a picture associated with the story on the front cover of the magazine along with a headline of some kind. In the TV business, they call it a lead story; this is the very first thing they talk about.
All of these things have one thing in common and that is the journalists want this story to be the very first thing you hear or read. The very first thing stated is usually of high importance; the first story or the lead story or the headline is the very first information you receive. At least by the journalists’ opinion, the lead story is usually the most important of the evening, so they tell that story first.
I thought it might be interesting to apply the journalist test to the messages of Christmas and see which one is normally the lead story. The results I think are really interesting. If you go back and look at a number of popular Christmas scriptures there is an element which is often the lead story which tends to get overlooked. When the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, what was the very first thing they said?
Do not be afraid.
When the angel visited Joseph in a dream about Mary, what did the angel say to Joseph?
Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.
When an angel appeared to Zechariah to tell him that his wife Elizabeth would conceive a child who was to become John the Baptist, the very first thing the angel said was “do not be afraid.”
When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, the first thing he said was “greetings favored one”, followed closely by “do not be afraid.”
There is a web site that I use quite often called “Bible Gateway” that has a number of interesting features. One of those features allows me to search the Bible by key phrase or individual words. If I go to that web site and search for the phrase “do not be afraid” you would be amazed at all the references that pop up. If you expand that search to include phrases like “fear not” or “have no fear” then the search really explodes. Almost without exception, it appears that if God has something important to say, the very first thing that is said is something about fear.
When the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary or to the disciples, the very first thing Jesus said was to not be afraid.
At least for me, this is at least one of the more important messages of Christmas. Do not be afraid. It isn’t a message that you see in lights or hear carols about, but it is an important part of the Christmas story. When God speaks, it seems like the lead story is often, do not be afraid.
You see, fear paralyzes us from action. Fear distorts our judgment. Fear prevents us from hearing what else God is trying to tell us; unless we deal with the fear first, nothing else will get through. That is why in the Bible, dealing with the fear is often the lead story and that is why it is also the hidden message of Christmas that is hiding in plain sight. Fear not.